City Walks – Walkable Sturgeon Bay

Door County is a hiking haven for nature lovers. Even within the City of Sturgeon Bay, making the one-mile loop over the historic Michigan Street and Oregon Street bridges, there are plenty of natural sights to see – in addition to downtown arts, shopping and historic landmarks.

During the past two years, tourism leaders have capitalized on the city’s ready-made walking routes by stepping up their promotion of Walkable Sturgeon Bay, including the popular 1.2-mile Bridge Loop. Local tourism director Cameryn Ehlers-Kwaterski said it’s a win-win that Sturgeon Bay provides many public access points to the water and has many enjoyable walking routes, such as a 2.7-mile Bay Walk, or a downtown arts, shopping and historic-site stroll.

Destination Sturgeon Bay gives away easy-to-fold maps that fit in a pocket or wallet. The map’s flipside shows the local portion of the Ice Age Trail through the west shopping district from the trail’s eastern terminus, Potawatomi State Park.

Dotted lines on the map and downtown lightpost charts guide visitors from 3rd Ave. to the 92-year-old steel lift bridge, then left along the west waterfront or along Maple Street, and then onto the 15-year-old Oregon Street bridge and back to 3rd. 

Simply walking across the two lift bridges yields a view of two awe-inspiring mechanical specimens, as well as a chance to pause, watch the mergansers, coots and mallards on the bay, and glimpse activity at the shipyards from afar. Bridge walker Chris Smith of Sturgeon Bay said she loves to end her summer evenings walking the loop and in winter she sometimes pauses to check out the unusual and changing puzzle-piece shapes of broken ice on the bay.

The more you stop, the more you can learn about Sturgeon Bay’s past and present. At the north end – the east end to Sturgeon Bay residents –  end of the Oregon Street bridge, Graham Park – one of the city’s newest developments – comes into view. Motorists might see the metal sculpture and fountain that features welding work by local and Green Bay shipworks crafts people, but hikers also will notice permanent entertainment features – four cornhole targets, two sturdy ping-pong tables and chess and checker tables. 

At the other end of the Oregon Street bridge, history buffs are in for rewards if they walk to the waterfront. The sidewalk below the bridge leads toward a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker and buoy tender and several museum-quality signs. 

One of those details the duties of USCGC Mobile Bay, and another has century-old photos from when residents picnicked nearby and watched lifeboat drills at the former rescue station.

Another interpretive sign details how people reached the north half or south half of the peninsula before bridges. For years, many people opted to venture out over the ice if they didn’t want to pay a nickel to walk or a quarter for a wagon and team to use a toll bridge constructed in 1887.

Another sign recounts the week after Oct. 21, 1960, when the Swedish freighter Carlsholm struck and disabled the then-29-year-old steel lift bridge. Maritime experts at Peterson Builders came to the rescue, transforming a barge into a temporary bridge at a narrow spot on the ship canal to link the two halves of the county until bridge repairs were completed.

Plaques and signs behind the Door County Maritime Museum describe everything from pioneers and shipbuilding industry innovators to the scientific reason water bubbles cause pitting in ship propellers.

Straying from the bridge loop can further reward hikers. The Bay Walk circles Stone Harbor Resort between Kentucky and Michigan streets, crosses the bay, turns toward Sonny’s Pizza and Bridge Up Brewing and leads to the sidewalk built on the bed of the former Ahnapee & Western rail line, one of the better locations – along with the stone breakwall near Stone Harbor – for fishing from the bank. 

The Bay Walk leads farther from the steel bridge to Bayview Park, an ideal vantage point when the 1,000-foot freighters return to the shipyard for winter layup. 

Here’s a trail-guide suggestion: Get two miles in by walking the bridge loop twice. Use 3rd Avenue and Maple Street once, and then take a second maritime-themed lap including 1st Avenue past active boat-building, or 2nd Avenue past spare ship propellers and a large aluminum hull that was forsaken by a customer who opted for a stronger shell several years ago.